I didn’t know about the tragedy when our daughter called to see if my husband was free to babysit her twin boys. She needed a sitter because she wanted to donate blood.
I heard my husband ask, “For Orlando?”
When he got off the phone, I asked, “What happened in Orlando?”
Details trickled in. Another shooting, 53 victims of gun violence reported at that time. And then the most chilling detail of all: a hate crime at a gay nightclub. I let the truth settle in while I put the pieces together. Family members had just returned from a trip to Florida during pride month. This time the news was not about some other race, some other community, some other place. This time it was personal.
I should be sad or embarrassed or ashamed that the news has to be personal for me to want to get involved. Maybe it seems cold or uncaring. The truth is, I care too much. I can’t face all the bad news this world has to offer on a daily basis, so I retreat. I shake my head at the television and turn on a movie. Fictional characters with fictional problems that are often times all too real for me.
This time it was different. I scrolled through social media to get the framework of the story that was unfolding in Orlando. News of a local rally in support of Orlando and gay rights caught my attention. I imagined members of my family, gay and straight, who frequent gay nightclubs, in the same scenario as the victims. I let the truth sink in a little deeper. I texted my son to tell him I love him.
By the end of the day on Sunday, June 12th I willingly turned on the news to hear more, to my horror. A story of a mother who couldn’t find her son. Tales of survivors watching bodies drop all around them while they trench-crawled to safety. One boy at the hospital, his friend still missing. And that mother.
I remembered that some of my family members had been to a gay nightclub in Orlando just a few years ago. Was it Pulse?
My friends, many of whom are fellow writers, posted their reactions on social media: no words. I had words. I could feel them boiling to the surface, wanting to be spoken. Some said it better than I could: it’s not about religion or guns; it’s about homophobia.
On Monday I called my daughter to check in. Our call got disconnected so I texted her to tell her I love her.
Then, I turned on the news to find that mother again. This time they found her son. He died on the floor of the nightclub.
“I would have gone in there and picked him up and carried him on my back if I had known,” she cried.
I can’t make sense of it. Should I rally? Donate blood? Go to a vigil? Write it all down?
Today, a fellow writer took a gift of hospitality to a visiting writer who is in town for a residency. A gift of caramel apple pie. The visiting writer brought the pie to my office to share with my coworker and me. The thoughtfulness and the kindness touched me deeper than it might have mere days ago.
I don’t know those other writers’ views on religion, or politics, or guns, or sexuality. But we could all be a little kinder. We could share a little more. We could all use some pie. And we could be grateful for those small acts.
Tonight I’ll turn on the news again. I’ll weep again for that mother who lost her son and for the 49 dead and 27 hospitalized. I’ll remember the kindness of strangers. I’ll hug my loved ones. And I’ll be thankful for the little things.